“The source of the danger is black people” — Why is racism normalized in conservation?

This Baka man told Survival International that he was beaten with two others at the WWF base, by eco guards. © Freddie Weyman/Survival
Imagine if a white American student, gone exploring on their gap year, was shot and killed for entering a National Park. There would be international outcry: most people are in favor of protecting nature and preserving areas of important biodiversity, but innocent people should not be getting shot.
But lots of innocent people are being shot. Like 17-year-old Mbone Christian Nakulire, who was shot and killed while he was picking medicinal plants in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The perpetrators had received funding and training from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a conservation body and parent organization of New York’s Bronx zoo.
Mbone Christian’s father, Mobutu Nakulire Munganga, wrote to WCS begging for justice not only for his son, but also for his people, the Batwa, who had been kicked off their land to make way for the National Park:
“Nothing will ever make up for the loss of my son, but I am making this complaint so that you can help me and my people find justice and return to our land,” said Mr Nakulire. “WCS must honor its human rights policy and help end our suffering.”
For more than 30 years, Survival International, fighting alongside the Indigenous and tribal people we partner with, has been trying to put an end to human rights abuses and violent atrocities committed in the name of “conservation.”
Rangers supported by world-renowned nature groups like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have tortured and murdered dozens of innocent people, including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
There is no question that what is happening is immoral and illegal, so why aren’t people angrier about this? Where is the outrage?

Join us now to #DecolonizeConservation and champion a new approach that puts tribal peoples at its heart.

For a lot of conservationists, it seems like black lives don’t really matter.
In the rare event that conservation atrocities do actually make the news, armchair environmentalists are quick to comment online and proudly declare how readily they would sacrifice brown bodies halfway across the world to save an animal they may only ever have seen on TV or in a zoo.
Conservation suffers from the racist delusion that non-white people in Africa and Asia don’t know how to look after their own land and cannot be trusted with the animals that live there. Speaking to The Guardian in 2018, Dr Mordecai Ogada, author of The Big Conservation Lie, said:
“The message is that African wildlife is in danger, and the source of the danger is black people, and that people from the US have to come and save wildlife from these black people.”
The idea the Indigenous peoples don’t understand how to care for their environment is nothing but old-fashioned racism. Evidence from across the world shows that securing land rights for Indigenous communities produces equal or better conservation outcomes at a fraction of the cost. UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said in a 2018 report:
“When bulldozers or park rangers force Indigenous peoples from their homes, it is not only a human rights crisis, it is also a detriment to all humanity. Indigenous peoples … are achieving at least equal conservation results with a fraction of the budget of protected areas, making investment in Indigenous peoples themselves the most efficient means of protecting forests.”
Anyone who truly cares about the planet must stop supporting any form of “conservation” which wounds, alienates and destroys Indigenous and tribal peoples. It’s time for conservation to recognize them as senior partners in the fight to protect their own land.
Survival launched a campaign in late 2018 to #StopMessokDja, a proposed protected area in the Republic of Congo which is being illegally created on the ancestral homelands of the Baka people, who have been robbed, beaten up, killed, and had their houses ransacked or set on fire by rangers.
Just over a year after the campaign launched, there are now formal investigations underway in the US, UK, and Germany, as well as from the EU and the UNDP. The legality of the park and how aid from western governments and NGOs funds the violent intimidation and torture of tribal people are just some of the topics under investigation.
This happened because you, our supporters, shouted out in solidarity with the Baka people to amplify their voices and change the world in their favor.
Join us now to #DecolonizeConservation and put the original and best conservationists around the world back in charge of their own land: For tribes, for nature, for all humanity.